Office of Student Engagement promotes balance

September 27, 2023
Person in an orange baseball cap leans over a table in a tent. A bearded man is seated at the table.
Student at the MUSC Student Activities and Volunteer Fair were treated to popsicles, doughnuts and lots of opportunities to get involved with their school community. Photos provided

When Erica Bligen took over MUSC’s Office of Student Engagement almost five years ago, she found that she had to fight some misconceptions about her new department. “Everyone thought of us as the party planners,” Bligen said. “I had to say ‘No no, we’re not just the party planners. We do a lot more than that.’” 

Bligen leads a team that’s in charge of the Student Government Association, Volunteer Programs, Student Leadership, Student Diversity, Off-Campus Housing and Student Communications, to name a few. And while there’s plenty of fun to be had for students of MUSC, Bligen sees real value in the myriad opportunities her office offers. “We foster that co-curricular experience, look at it from a holistic approach and look at things like wellness and mental well-being.

The Office of Student Engagement has quite a lot under its umbrella. It’s responsible for communicating with the campus community via newsletters, social networks and flyers. They also work with student ambassadors to help prospective students to learn everything they need to know about MUSC. There are also student diversity initiatives that promote a welcoming campus environment to all as well as resources to help students to find off-campus housing.

All of these groups post their events to the Engage page online that allows students to get involved with organizations and sign up for events. Students can also browse service opportunities and track their service hours on the Helper Helper app. Even with numerous groups and activities, Bligen said her office is always listening to the student body and willing to add programs students want. 

“Our Financial Literacy Interest Group actually came as a result of students telling us that they wanted to know more about financial literacy,” Bligen explained. “We piloted the program from the Student Government Association, and since then, we’ve been able to help students with things like financial independence, student loan management, basic investing, budgeting, insurance and retirement planning.”

Two women smile standing behind a table. They are both wearing navy polo shirts. There are balloons behind them. 
Susannah McFaul, assistant director of Volunteer Programs and Service Learning, stands with Erica Bligen, executive director of Student Engagement, at the fair.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Bligen and her office worked to move as many events as they could to a virtual setting. “We reimagined many of our programs,” Bligen said. “For example, we had virtual wine tastings, where we had a local vendor here to create little packages; we had students come and pick them up, and we did it virtually.” 

What was undoubtedly a stressful and difficult pivot for the Office of Student Engagement has quickly become an essential part of the MUSC experience. For students who are taking classes at from a distance or perhaps doing a clinical rotation in a different location, virtual events allow them to stay connected to their friends back at school. 

“We had to figure out how to make sure that we still included our virtual population because we found they really enjoyed it and still wanted to be a part of what’s going on here,” Bligen said. “So we found a balanced way to continue offering some of it.”

Clearly, there’s no shortage of activities and organizations for MUSC students to be involved in, but what makes student engagement so important? Why should students do more than just study? Bligen said that student engagement doesn’t just provide students an outlet from their schoolwork, but it can actually enhance it. “These activities are not necessarily extracurricular; they’re co-curricular because they tie back into academic-based experiences,” Bligen said. 

Georgette Smith, R.N., Ph.D., MUSC’s associate provost for Education, Innovation and Student Life, sees student engagement as essential to a healthy and well-rounded student. “There's a lot of work that goes on to ensure that our students are having not just an academic journey but also their life journey.” Smith said. “We're trying to promote health and well-being in all aspects of daily living for our students because, as you know, the programs here are really intense, and they are a lot of work.”

Get the Latest MUSC News

Get more stories about what's happening at MUSC, delivered straight to your inbox.